by | Jul 13, 2023 | Change, Leadership, Ministry Leader, Pain, Pastor, Transition

In today’s post, Jaime Hlavin introduces a series of blogs focused on how to process one of the most painful events in the life of any pastor . . . when people they love leave the church. Hope you enjoy this series of posts ~ John.

My husband and I served in various ministry positions at a wonderful church for over a decade. At the end of those ten years, our lead pastor transitioned to a new ministry role. It was then we felt the Lord directing us to leave our name in for consideration for the lead pastorate of that wonderful church. After a rigorous interview process, we were elected with a vote of 98%. Those early days were full of life, momentum, and vision. But the honeymoon period didn’t last.

One day, a married couple—pillars in our church—made an appointment to meet with us. We had known these people for decades. We youth-pastored their children, lived life alongside them, celebrated and mourned with them, and been their friends. They told us they were leaving the church because the Lord was directing them elsewhere.

It felt like a punch to the gut. Trying to process how someone could just “abandon” the work that my husband and I lived and breathed took time and effort. It felt like heartbreak. Like betrayal. That first departure happened nearly a decade and a half ago, and I can still recall my visceral reaction as if it were just yesterday.

If you’ve led a church for any period of time, you’re no stranger to this truth: people leave churches. And if you’re human, you know that no matter the circumstances, there are complex and strong emotions involved with each exit.

More often than not, our seminary or Bible school educations don’t prepare us for processing the ebb and flow of people arriving or leaving from our church.

In their book, Putting the Good in Goodbye: A Healthy Conversation About the Comings & Goings of Church People, John Opalewski and Jim Wiegand lay out a guide to help pastors better process their thoughts and feelings when the Christians they’ve dedicated their lives to decide to leave.

Both Jim and John experienced extremely painful seasons of ministry that involved people leaving their churches for various reasons. These seasons took tremendous tolls on their mental/emotional health. Out of that pain and subsequent healing, they’ve made it their goal to encourage pastors, give perspective, and provide a game plan or framework for leaders. Their real-life experiences, struggles, and lessons learned through pain and disappointment may make your leadership journey easier to navigate.

Perhaps you’re in an exciting season of momentum of growth! Keep going and growing! But be sure to bookmark this series for future reference just in case. We will spend the next weeks introducing five major ideas related to the comings and goings of the Jesus-followers you pastor. Hopefully these will help you process the “shifting of the sheep” and serve as a foundation for a healthier approach to dealing with it.

We begin by understanding changing seasons, appreciating who our church people belong to, and what our genuine, God-given role is in their lives. We’ll launch into more detail in the weeks to come.

And as always, our goal is to encourage you that it’s possible to lead well, process the ups and downs of ministry, and navigate the comings and goings of people—all while having a thriving life outside of ministry including:

  • A solid marriage.
  • Kids who love you and still speak to you.
  • Time for replenishing friendships.
  • Regular exercise.
  • Sufficient sleep.

While this may sound like an impossible dream, rest assured God wants us to labor in accordance with Matthew 11:29-30: “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” 

Next week we will focus on the foundational rock which will hold us steady as the comings and goings of people happen. Their comings and goings have the potential to cause us to trip and stumble. This firm footing allows us to confidently put one foot in front of the other as we face the storms. It centers around being confident in our calling. Before we launch into that, take some time to reflect on these questions and know that we are rooting and praying for you!


  1. Who do you lean on when life punches you in the gut?
  2. In what ways has God leveraged the painful events of your life?
  3. What would have to change for you to have a healthy life outside of ministry?